Trinitarian Prisca theologia

Trinitarian Prisca theologia May 12, 2014

Deists didn’t think revelation necessary. The original religion was natural religion, and the original natural religion was the best.

Steven Studebaker (Jonathan Edwards’ Social Augustinian Trinitarianism) shows that one of the leading orthodox responses to this argument was the effort to show that “natural” religion was not natural at all. It depended on an original revelation, a prisca theologia, which “was the primeval source of the so-called natural religion” (223).

Studebaker summarizes the argument as presented by Edwards: “The presence of teachings in non-Christian religions typically attributed to revelation and mysteries in Christianity suggests the universality of revelation. These common religious teachings were vestiges of an ancient religious tradition imbedded in the cultures of the world. This ancient tradition derived from contact with Noah, Moses, or the ancient Israelites. Edwards credits much of the learning of Aristotle, Plato, Plutarch, and Porphyry to contact with the ancient Israelites” (224).

Edwards went so far as to argue that the Trinity was included in the prisca theologia: “He transcribed several citations in the Miscellanies that show the presence of trinitarian ideas in non-Christian religions. His transcriptions focus on remnants of the Trinity in Greek and Chinese thought. . . . Greek thinkers discussed the first principle that is self-existence, The first principle is the infinite power and supreme cause of all things. . . . The Greeks posited a second hypostasis in the divinity begotten from the first. They described the second hypostasis in terms of the idea, word, logos, reason, and exemplar of the first divine principle. . . . The Greeks . . . described the third divine principle as love and the active power of the deity” (225-26).

Studebaker says that Edwards’s sources were unreliable. No doubt. Yet one wonders whether it is possible to make sense of the religious history of humanity without making some use of the largely-abandoned notion of prisca theologia.

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